Aflac, State Farm reach life insurance settlements

More than $10 billion in life insurance benefits have gone unclaimed in recent years. And the darndest memory problems at insurance companies seemed to keep popping up.

Some insurance companies managed to check death rolls quietly but quite efficiently to stop paying annuities, an investigation spearheaded by Florida officials found. But then whoops, it slipped their minds to look very hard for beneficiaries who might not know they were named in life insurance policies.

Settlements with two insurers announced this week highlight continuing efforts by regulators to help make sure beneficiaries get what they are due.

Curious if you might be due something?  One place to check is a state unclaimed-property website, www.FLTreasureHunt.org, or call 1-88-VALUABLE or (850) 413-3089.

Settlements have been reached with Aflac for $350,000 and State Farm for $250,000, regulators said Thursday.

The announcement comes in the sixth year of a multi-state national effort that has returned more than $8.7 billion in proceeds directly to beneficiaries, and sent more than $3.25 billion to the states, where unclaimed-property programs continue efforts to locate and pay beneficiaries, officials said.

Neither company admitted wrongdoing in the settlements, which mean  30 of the top 40 companies have now reached deals or seen investigations concluded on the issue. Previous agreements have sometimes involved much larger sums. Insurer AIG, for example, agreed to make available $25 million in unclaimed life insurance benefits in Florida in 2013.

An investigation by Florida insurance officials in 2009 found  “companies were using information from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to stop paying a deceased person’s annuity, but not using it to search for beneficiaries of a life insurance policy and initiate an investigation as to whether benefits were due.”

Florida’s share of the settlements with the two companies is about $42,000, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, the state’s Department of Financial Services and Attorney General.

In statements, the companies emphasized long-running efforts to address the issue.

“Since 2012 Aflac has incorporated the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to identify individuals who might otherwise be unaware that they are eligible for benefits,” said Jon A. Sullivan, director of corporate communications. “The DMF has become a useful resource as it enables us to better serve our policyholders and facilitate our goal, which is to deliver needed benefits during difficult times.”

A statement from State Farm said, “The State Farm Life companies became aware of this issue when questions surfaced in the life insurance industry eight years ago.

“At that time, State Farm independently began to review how unreported deaths could be located where the life insurance beneficiaries had not presented a claim.

“This effort helped us locate and provide policy benefits to beneficiaries in advance of statutory changes and the requirements of this settlement. We continue to apply this process in all states.

“The recently announced settlement included a monetary payment for the examination, compliance, and monitoring costs associated with the Multi-State Examination.”

Life insurance law called ‘monumental win’ as Gov. Scott signs

life insuranceFlorida has become the first state in the nation to impose sweeping requirements for life insurance companies to search death files to make sure families get benefits, state officials said as Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill Tuesday.

Florida insurance commissioner Kevin McCarty called it a “monumental win.”

SB 966 takes effect immediately.

Florida consumers already have recovered $500 million in benefits from a limited number of insurers in multi-state deals, but the bill imposes requirements on all life insurers operating in the state and could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional benefits, supporters say.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquicsto, R-Fort Myers.

“This consumer friendly bill will ensure that when family members take steps to provide comfort and financial protection by purchasing life insurance, that companies ensure those beneficiaries receive what is due,” Hager said in a statement.

Another $250 million could be paid “in the near future,” Hager said.

Over the years, many life insurance companies have waited to be contacted by a beneficiary, rather than researching whether the policyholder is still living, according to state officials. If the company is never contacted, it never pays, they say.

“This is a monumental win for the state of Florida in addressing an inequitable industry-wide claims practice in the life insurance industry that was uncovered more than five years ago,” McCarty said.

He credited the joint efforts of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and his office, among others.

“Today’s new law makes sure all life insurance companies doing business in Florida will abide by the same guidelines in their searches for beneficiaries, meaning more life insurance benefits will be discovered and returned to their rightful owners where they belong,” McCarty said.